Friday, July 23, 2004

Escalante 2004

Escalante 2004 July 2-9
Friday July 2- Escalante, Utah

Dr. Steve (friend from the U of A)and I headed up to Northern Arizona on July 2nd in his Subaru outback(which I have grown to love, anyone shopping for a new car should look at this car). We did not get to the Kodachrome Basin () until nightfall cause we were busy stopping and taking pictures of the Vermillion Cliffs and the painted desert. We camped near one of the arches at about 10pm az time. We had no idea what the landscape really looked like beyond the reach of a flash light, but the place was flat. When we woke up, we were surprised that we camped in a minefield full of explosive mines, oh that is a typo, i mean on top of an old dam. The arch was simple, we stopped and took pictures from the road. We headed for the BLM of Escalante in order to obtain our backcountry permits that we would be using. Escalante, Utah is a small mormon city with a population of 818. The grocery stores (2 of them) close at 8pm every night and it has one ice cream shop. It is so small that everyone waves at each other. By the end of the trip, I felt like a local cause every time I went to town, I would wave at everyone. Out of courtesy, everyone waved back at me. Wish we could have stayed for the annual parade. A week after we left Utah, the parade would begin. In anticipation for the big day, all the famlies in Escalante built a float and would parade through town. Also, the next town over was having a firework show for the 4th of July with sparklers and snails, no screaming eagles, whistle do's, whistle don'ts, cherry bombs, bottlerockets (josh and charlies' favortie) etc., just sparklers and snails.

Saturday, July 3- Neon Canyon, Ecalante, UT
I also had to buy some fuel for my stove and stock up on yogurt since we would be void of any cold items (apart from items in the jammed packed cooler). Have you tried the new whipped, fat free, no carb, low sodium, diet yogurt yet? Well, don’t! I wanted yogurt, but what I got was a mixture between Watergate salad and whip cream. Sunny D was the closest I could find to orange juice, so I bought some also. We filled up gas and head to Neon Canyon to explore our first canyon. The trail head is about 20 miles our from the town of Escalante on a dirt road called Hole-in-the-Rock. Its name comes from a mormon-wagon trail that ran to present-day lake powell. The mormon pioneers wanted to get to the four corner area in order to reach lawless whites and indians. What was predicted to be a 6 week road construction project turned into a 6 month project! (Wait a second! I think that those mormon (dum dum dum dum dum) pioneers have ancestors that are running our road construction here in Tucson. Have you been to the bridge on La Canada/CDO Wash? Or how about to Tangerine Road? Or the I-19/I-10 overpass? My all-time favorite is the road to Mt Lemon. sorry... back to the story) It was Saturday, and our goal was to reach the gorge of Escalante River by about 4pm. We parked on the mesa, overlooking the vast valley below. The 4 mile hike went over slot canyons, down huge sand dunes, and dropped into the Escalante River. One of the BLM rangers warned us about killer,eating, blood-sucking flies (also know as deer flies) near the river, but we did not have a problem.
Dinner was excellent. I decided to pre-make (I made them at home and left them in the cooler) some mushroom-chicken and white rice for some of the simple hikes. We went to bed without a bite from the deer flies. Even if they did come out that night, I packed down a portable fly zapper. (no just kidding, but you can imagine if I had brought one. zzzzzzappppp, sizzzzle, then the nice smell of burnt deer fly) I had a great evening looking at the stars and dreaming of zapped dear flies.

Sunday July 4- Golden Cathedral, Neon Canyon
We packed our hiking stuff (which we hid in a bush) and separated our climbing/canyoneering gear cause we were heading into Neon Canyon [() 3 rappels to 80' (25m)]. We hiked into the canyon first to take pictures of the Golden Cathedral, then up and around the left side to the start of the canyon. It was in the high 90's at about 10:30 am, and we were fully exposed to the hot sun.
We were not sure if Neon had a keeper, which can be either a nightmare or an interesting swim. A "keeper," as its names suggests sometimes can cause problems while in the canyon. If you are in a slot canyon, the only way out is down. Now imagine a keeper. Close your eyes and imagine a big bowl with slippery, tall sides that are unclimbable. We found an anchor above the slot canyon and decided to rope of in case we needed it to escape the canyon.
We had lunch at the opening of neon, mostly nutra grain bars and raisins. The start of the slot was very interesting. The first rappel at 11am dropped about 25 feet into a large mandatory swim. The slot canyon was very small and very dark. I would have named this the "Bat Cave" if I was the first person to visit this canyon. But I was not, so I went unsatisfied with the naming of the canyon. I trudged ahead to see about the rope we had dropped down and the status of the keeper. Most canyons that have water, have debris and weird animals in the water, which is dark and cold. Neon was no exception to this. It was nice to be out of the sun, but I was indifferent to being the first to go while steve waited on top of the rim. Most of the time, I am so cold, that I do not think about wadding/swimming through some dark, unknown water. A few minutes later, I found the rope and yelled back to steve. No response. The canyon was too skinny and I was to far away. It is difficult to explain the feeling of a slot canyon so cold and still. The walls at my point were approximately 70 feet high, while the width of the slot ranged from 5-15 feet at any given point. The rope was in the center of the slot and I could reach both ends of the rope (the anchor is used, while both ends are tossed over in order to be able to pull the rope through).
I proceeded to attempt to find the keeper. The next drop went into a bowl-shaped water hole. The keeper was full of water, which meant everything was perfect and steve could come down. I swam/walked about 90 meters back to the first rappel to yell at steve to come down. While I was waiting I decided to start recording a few short movies of the trip. Steve arrived and continued ahead while I waited for the ok. After the keeper was an open area, which I used to get warm. Steve is somewhat of a polar bear, a mammoth, a machine, an eskimo, meaning he can take water levels at all degrees. We eventually got to the top of the Golden Cathedral (the 80’ drop that is the highlight). I went down first. About 1/3 of the way, I tied off and dangled to enjoy the cathedral. It was amazing. The above website is has a great picture of this grotto-like area. Steve rested in the pools, took pictures, while I hiked around to pull the rope from the anchor on the near the first drop-in.
I got back to the river a little earlier than steve and decided to sit in the water of the cool, calm escalante river which was running about 5-10 times the normal (rain the week before). It was so quiet.
Steve came as I was making dinner, shrimp ramen. Yummy. We finished and headed to the car. We had a hard night hike to the car, cause the trail was unmarked. Ultimately we had to follow the route on the GPS. We had some pre-cooked fajitas when we got to the car. The moon that night was orange and amazing. Who needs fireworks on July 4th when you can have fajitas, under an orange moon sky? Slept next to the car, until it started to rain at about midnight. Steve ran to the car, I had to put the tent up in a light down poor.

Monday July 5
Nothing beats a good sleep on a therma-rest. We headed down towards Lake Powell to an area called Cathedral of the Desert. The water level of Lake Powell is down about 100 feet due to a drought that has squelched the southwest. Good news though. Some doctoral students did some algebra and calculated that if a moderate drought continues for another 5-10 years, the lake will dry up. This is one of the reasons we opted for this area. Many of the areas that you will read about, were underwater up til 1-4 year(s) ago. If the water rises again, these areas will once again be submerged. The Cathedral of the Desert is one of the areas that has been exposed in the past few years.
This hike was hot (100's) and had almost no shade. We were basically doing a reconissance????? mission over a sand dune (flashback to the movie Dune with Sting, from police, and screaming weapons) that with 6 liters of water and a hope for some pools. It was hot, until we found the beginning of the slot canyon and some keepers full of water. At first sight of water, we dropped our packs and ran into the water. We thought we were going to rappel into cathedral, but we had to walk around first and scout. we think that we were the first people to have visited the area and are zealous to return. Eventually we ran out of time and headed back to the car. Mary was joining us at 6pm in Escalante, so we had to meet her. The town of Escalante once again greeted us warmly. Unsuspecting locals thinking we were locals, were returning my wave as we drove by innocently. I wanted to cover the AZ license as to not give us away, but steve voted against it. The next idea was again struck down: buying a bumber sticker for the Subaru: BYU Alumni

Tuesday 6th-Wednesday 7th
After we met Mary, we drove down to Crack-in-the-Wall Trailhead (named for a small crack that you have to squeeze through) which is the entrance to Coyote Gulch, Steven's Arch, Coyote Natural Bridge, and Jacob's Arch. The hike had some amazing scenery and beautiful waterfalls. This can be considered the part of the trip that was relaxing. We hiked about 12 miles in three days. It was hot upper 90s til 11pm at night, which was very strange (we slept near a giant sand dune on the side of the mountain). We actually hiked down/up that sand dune, which made me think that if I had brought some skis/snowboard/sled/or even a piece of cardboard, i would have had fun sliding down that sand dune.

Thursday 8th
We hiked out of Coyote Gulch at 4am, and headed to a small slot canyon called Egypt. It was once again hot. This was in the same area that we parked for neon. We hiked down from the mesa, into the canyon. This one was quite interesting. The description says it best:
"A long hike through a very long and extremely narrow slot. People who are over about 200 lbs may have severe difficulties getting through and should not participate. Claustrophobes will not have a good time. The slot requires shuffling sideways between narrow walls for several hundred yards at a time."
Using a restroom in this kind of environment creates a big problem.
There were times that I almost got wedged in between both sides of the wall. When I was in front leading, spiders (daddy-long legs?) and lizzards would be climbing up in order to get above your head. At times, they would use me as a bridge to get to the other wall, climbing on my face. There was little I could do cause I could not move my arms as it was too tight. When we came to a group of spiders, I would yell "spiders." I knew steve had passed the spiders, and mary had them crawling on her cause she would scream. We saw one pygmy rattlesnake and no water during the trip.

Friday 9th
We rented sea kayaks and bummed a ride (from some nice guides that are studying at nau) at Lees Ferry to Glen Canyon Dam at 11am. The all-day trip pleasant, and we paddled most of the trip and got back to Lees Ferry at about 6pm (6 hour from dam). The next day we returned the kayaks and returned home.

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